The Energy Information Administration of the United States reported some exciting news about renewable energy developments over the past year. Additional electricity generation capacity for 2016 came mostly from renewable sources, notably solar and wind power. According to the EIA, wind and solar each made comparable contributions to utility-scale power generation. However, it might be time to take a closer look at some new developments that should impact the solar power industry positively in the near future.
A Look Ahead for Solar Power in 2017 and Beyond
After enjoying the good news about last year's renewable energy contribution to American energy, it's possible to consider current trends and new industry developments to base educated predictions upon:
1. Solar Energy Growth in the USA
The EIA expects power capacity from solar energy to reach 26.5 GW by the last quarter of 2018, an increase of 8.5 GW over the next two years. To understand this figure, consider that the EIA estimated the entire country requires about 790 GW to meet a year's demand. Of course, some parts of the country have focused on solar power more than others. The states that generate the most solar power include California, Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, and Georgia.
The EIA also estimated that about 1.2 percent of utility-scale power should come from solar by the end of 2018. This estimate sounds small, and it really might be a bit conservative. Some significant and recent innovations from the solar energy industry might speed up the growth of solar power use and capacity. It's very possible that solar can challenge other kinds of renewable power and even fossil fuels more quickly than some analysts anticipate.
2. Solar Project Costs
As Bloomberg reported at the end of 2016, reduced panel costs have dramatically reduced the cost of solar power projects. Recent projects have cost less to construct than similar wind and even oil or gas projects. Since about 2010, wind-power projects were generally cheaper, but that appears to be changing.
I might surprise some people to learn that solar projects have become competitive with wind projects; however, it's even more interesting to note that solar projects may also be undercutting oil and gas efforts. In the past, the solar industry pointed out that their products could deliver clean and renewable energy. Now they can add affordability to their list of selling points.
3. Solar Panel Technology
Not only have solar panels gotten cheaper, they've also gotten better looking and more functional. For instance, some homeowners may have hesitated to install a solar system at home because of the way the panels would look on their roof. Recently, Tesla announced panels that look and work like regular shingles.
These new solar shingles offer the durable functionality of roof shingles, and they are supposed to be cheaper than traditional solar panels. In addition, other companies have worked on flexible solar panels that can be stuck on surfaces with an adhesive, making them easy to install.
4. Energy Storage
Affordable energy storage has been one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Having a way to store excess capacity to use later would offer a huge benefit. As a simple example, consider the advantage of having a home solar system that could store solar energy on sunny days for use at night or on cloudy days. In the past, batteries cost too much, so most home systems had to rely on the grid when they could not generate their own power.
According to a report from Deutsche Bank, the cost of producing these batteries should decline by over 20 percent a year. They believe this cost reduction will result in very commercially viable solutions by 2020, if not sooner.
Will Solar Power Supply the Grids of the Future?
It's impossible to say how supply and technology might impact the price and accessibility of other traditional or alternative fuel sources. However, it's important to look at the way that solar capacity has grown, despite some obstacles. In addition, solar panel cost should decline while the technology and appearance of these systems improve.
Once the industry can reduce storage costs, that might remove the last barrier that prevents general adaption of solar power as a means for generating electricity. Once the solar industry can consistently offer consumers the advantages of power that is renewable, clean, and cheap to generate and store, consumers and utilities are likely to demand more solar systems. comment↓